Sometimes, we ought to discern a hyperbole or an overstatement when it is presented to us, especially on social media or during casual talk.
Words can often be used for effect, for comic relief, for irony, and for unintended interpretation too (to serve one’s own jaundiced interests).
Perfection is a loaded word. One man’s nation is another man’s deprivation. Or one man’s pride is another man’s sigh.
But we use it all the time.
On settling the date for a long-awaited meal, we would reply: “Perfect”. On seeing our daughter’s photo when she is just learning to walk, we gush out: “This is perfect”.
And on our wedding day, when we unveil our beautiful bride, the groom would whisper to his wife: “Dear you are perfect. It’s a perfect day.”
What’s more, to qualify Singapore as “almost perfect” is in my view tempering the irrepressible exuberance with a certain sense of calm and calculation already.
Now, what am I talking about?
Let’s unveil the social media “covfefe” here.
It is reported in the papers today entitled “Too many in Singapore lack perspective, says vlogger.”
That’s what the popular travel blogger slash Harvard graduate, Nuseir Yassin, thinks.
He was the one who lauded our little clean and green city-state as “almost perfect” in his latest series of one-minute videos about our first-class Changi Airport, our urine-purified water in a bottle, and our clean garden state.
That’s what he meant by an almost perfect republic.
But a post in the Facebook page, The Alternative View, commented this: -
“Nuseir Yassin professes to be an authority on (Singapore) after spending only a few days here.”
It said that he should “walk the talk” and take up citizenship in Singapore and experience the local living conditions as an average citizen.””
I guess what stoke the ire even more was when Nuseir was seen in a photo with our PM Lee, when they met in Singapore. To some out there, our government is persona non grata in their books.
The commentator then listed a series of social and emotional woes that seemed to suggest that our country is on the contrary “almost imperfect”.
It made reference to our 99-yr lease HDB flats and the fate of the elderly owners after it expires, the mandatory national service with strict defaulters’ penalty, the compulsory CPF and what the government is doing with our hard earned money, and the questionable quality of our train service.
Well, Nuseir is not going to take it lying down and stood up he did.
He said: “Why doesn’t everyone here try to live in the Middle East for a little bit?
Then, he went on to highlight “his struggles as an Arab Muslim raised in the Jewish state of Israel, the frequent wars that the country engages in and how he would much prefer to live in Singapore.”
So, here is the in-your-face wake up call that Nuseir aimed to put across. He added: “One thing my travels have taught me is that a lot of people lack perspective. And in Singapore, too many people lack it.”
It reported that he ended his post “by implying that his critic is living in a “bubble” and is a crybaby.”
Actually, there is a crybaby in everyone of us. That pity-me mindset grows up with us from cradle, and sadly for some, to the grave.
But crybabies aside, and I don’t know whether it is true that too many people in Singapore lack perspective, which may be another overstatement, I however feel that the perspective part ought to be our focus here.
On social media, let me just say that most of us are trigger-happy to say whatever we want to say just because we feel good about it at that time we say or post it.
We often mistake the strength of our feelings for the strength of our argument. A heated mind resents the cool logic of constructive criticism.
But the key to staying sane in such an arm’s-length and impersonal world (which most times have no offline substance and application to real life) is to just walk away distilling the best part of an exchange, however fiery or inflammatory it can mutate into.
And the best part here is “perspective”.
Let me recount what that means to me in varying hues and applications.
I have talked to a young lady whose husband is hellbent on leaving her because he just discovered that she has liver failure and needed a transplant to survive. He said that he doesn’t want to be burdened by her for life.
Now, that is one perspective. Here is another.
I have also talked to a couple, in their sixties, who grew even closer to each other when the husband discovered that his wife has brain tumor. The wife insisted on leaving him so that he would not suffer with her. But the husband is hellbent on going through all the pain and struggles with her, come rain or high waters.
Now, that is another perspective for me; a truly empowering one.
While one drops everything and escapes from it all, the other stays behind and promises to never let go.
I have also talked to a father whose wife left him after he lost his job as a grab driver and has to struggle to make ends meet. Before she left, he dumped their twin daughter on his lap.
Well, that’s perspective from her point of view.
But the story did not end there. He later discovered that the twin daughters were not his, biologically speaking. They were someone else’s.
Yet, at that time when they were only two years old, he had fell in love with them and promised them that he will be their father regardless.
He told me that blood may be thicker than water, but love transformed water to wine, and the joy of love was spilling over as he spoke about how - at sixteen now - they are flourishing in school and the priceless intimate moments he shared with them.
If that is not perspective, a perspective that elevates humanity and not aggravates or condemns it, I don’t know what is.
Edith Eger, an Auschwitz survivor, who authored a book “The Choice”, wrote that “survivors don’t have time to ask, “Why me?” For survivors, the only relevant question is, “What now?””
Although Edith said that there is no hierarchy of suffering, that is, “my pain is worse or better than yours” just because I survived Auschwitz, and there is “no graph on which we can plot the relative importance of one sorrow versus another,” she nevertheless reminded us that “suffering is universal, but victimhood is optional.”
She said that “victimhood comes from the inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We become victims not because of what happens to us but when we choose to hold on to our victimization. We develop a victim’s mind - a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive, and without healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailors when we choose the confines of the victim’s mind.”
Alas, this world lacks no pain and heartaches.
And whether we are in Singapore or in a war-ravaged country, each of us suffers in our own signature ways.
Of course, in relative terms, that is, comparing our emotional scars with another can be good for some encouragement to the extent that one can console oneself that he or she should count their blessings.
But ultimately, it only takes you that far because you can’t feel my cut and I can’t feel yours. We hurt differently. We heal differently. We overcome differently.
One may be bless with great resilience and another with less. One may have strong support and another less. And one may surmount life threatening circumstances and another may feel overwhelmed by what seems like only a life’s derailment.
Nevertheless, the greatest injustice when you are going through a trial is to perpetuate it unnecessarily and indefinitely (after the trial has long past) with a victimhood mindset by locking yourself in a mind-prison and throw away the keys.
Personally, at times, when my heart is overwhelmed, I always pray that I would be taken to the rock that is higher than I; that is, to leave the jagged-edged rock of victimhood that sees only pain, envy, defeat, discontentment, anger and disillusionment at ground zero and to go to the rock of ages that sees beyond all that to a life of hope, faith and unfailing love.
Because - if you think about it - life never promised me a rose garden. But even in the toughest of times, I strive to turn my eyes to the Rose of Sharon, the one who had been through all and had promised that I too shall overcome if I don’t give up.
Now, that’s perspective. That makes even the worst place (or country) a place of personal and eventual overcoming. Cheerz.